There was outrage when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposed the fact that former competition chief Neelie Kroes had been the director — from 2001 to 2009 — of a company, Mint Holdings Limited, that was established in 2000 in the Bahamas to be the vehicle for a proposed deal to acquire some of energy company Enron's assets.
The directorship was not declared in the register of interests she completed when joining the European Commission in 2004, which is in breach of the Commission's rules that require Commissioners to declare all professional activities in the ten-year period before becoming one.
"Kroes' links to the proposed Enron deal would have remained secret were it not for a leak. That is why it is crucial to have public databases of company ownership, which civil society, journalists, and indeed the Commission itself, can use to check for potential conflicts of interest. We need genuine transparency around who owns what, otherwise we will have to rely on the fallible memories and record-keeping of politicians," said Carl Dolan, Director of Transparency International EU.
In her defense, Kroes told the Commission that she had informed the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of the directorship in September 2016, saying that the non-declaration — on becoming a commissioner, 2004 — because she was not aware that her directorship had continued to be listed until 2009.
'Cannot Be Blamed'
In its ruling, the Commission concluded that she "was in breach of the Code of Conduct for Commissioners" by not declaring the directorship upon becoming a commissioner in 2004, but said that she "cannot be blamed" for her continuing entry as a director of the company "if she has not been and could not reasonably have been aware of still holding the post not effectively exercised."
Kroes was, however, given a "reprimand" over a second claim that she had failed to declare income from a third party, 2015, while receiving the 'transitional allowance' paid to ex-commissioners between the time of leaving office and gaining further employment. The reprimand was for the latter oversight and not the issue of her directorship.